Hunting Mistakes

Sheviit (7:3) | Yoni Fisher | 18 years ago

The Mishnah in Shviit (7:3) discusses the prohibition of using fruits of the seventh year for trade purposes. Tangentially it brings other items which, because of their sanctity or impurity may not be used for trade. However, the next Mishnah (7:4) states that a hunter may trade impure animals if he did not intentionally hunt them. This point is disputed by R’ Yehuda and the Sages - R’ Yehuda holds that “a person who is not a hunter also has the same leniency”; the sages disagree. There are numerous opinions about the point of disagreement. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that the sages are lenient with the hunter because he must pay a ‘hunting tax’ to the government and therefore, to offset his financial pressure he is given a special dispensation allowing him to keep the animal. Therefore, the sages do not let a normal person trade such animals if he accidentally trapped them, because they do not pay a hunting tax. R’ Yehuda, however, permits a normal person to sell an impure animal provided he does not do so on a regular basis in order to make a living.

In his commentary on this Mishnah, Rambam says the Halacha follows R’ Yehuda, however, Tosfot Yom Tov and Kehati point to the Rambam in hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot (8:17) where Rambam seems to hold like the sages.

The Lechem Mishnah claims that Rambam understands the opinion of the sages and R’ Yehuda in a different manner to other commentaries and therefore his statement is not contradictory.

The Nodah B’Yehuda (yoreh de’ah question/answer 63) offers a different interpretation of the Rambam. He says that the Rambam is not quoting the opinion of the sages, rather, when he mentions a hunter he does not mean exclusively a hunter and not a normal person, but is rather citing the usual application of this Halacha, i.e. there is a far greater chance that a hunter will chance upon an animal forbidden in trade than a normal person, simply because he is occupied throughout the day in trapping animals.

There is another fascinating point brought down in the mishnah 4 and

  1. Tosfot Yom Tov asks (also discussed in Pesachim 23, 24 and in Moed Katan) why the interpreters of the Mishnah imply the rulings are rabbinic when in fact there is a biblical source to the prohibition. Even more problematic is the question posed by the Tosfot Yom Tov on 7:4 - how could the sages have permitted hunters to trade animals regarding which the Torah forbids trade? It is difficult to understand how the sages can institute a rabbinic law that overrides a biblical prohibition?

In short, Rashi and other Rishonim in Pesachim answer the first question explaining that in several cases the Torah made a general prohibition but also gave the rabbis authority to derive more detailed individual prohibitions though proper exegesis. Tosfot Yom Tov answers his second question by explaining that the rabbis even have the right to limit a prohibition to certain circumstances and rule that in certain cases – like when hunters have to pay tax – the prohibition would not apply.


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